“I didn’t see that coming in the second half” a disappointed Steve Bruce reflected on Newcastle United’s second half surrender to Arsenal.
Newcastle may have shown a more positive side to their game during the first half at the Emirates stadium, though it was a familiar story - Lack of composure in the final third and most importantly of all, no striker to put the ball in the back of the net.
Newcastle bought Joelinton for £40m in the summer in a bid to fire the club up the Premier League table. Instead, the Brazilian has registered just one Premier League goal all season, way back in August against Tottenham. Bruce does not have the luxury of rotating his strikers, injuries to Andy Carroll, Dwight Gayle and Yoshinori Muto has forced Bruce to keep faith with a striker who’s confidence is completely shot.
Newcastle’s scouting team have questions to answer, as does Bruce regarding Joelinton’s transfer. During his time with Hoffenheim, Joelinton was rarely played as the main forward - Either playing on the left or in a deeper role. That shows in his performances for Newcastle, the Brazilian doesn’t make any of the movements an out and out striker would. Joelinton comes deep to receive the ball and looks to start attacks, there is no natural instinct to get into the box and in a scoring position. There in lies the problem for Newcastle, when Miguel Almiron or Allan Saint-Maximin burst forward, there is nobody to pass to.
Make no mistake about it, Joelinton has qualities to become a vital player for Newcastle but not as a main striker. It begs the question - Did Newcastle’s scouting team do their homework before giving the go ahead for Joelinton’s transfer?
Newcastle are stumbling towards safety either by luck or judgement. The club are bottom or thereabouts in every statistic imaginable - From expected goals to possession stats. Though Newcastle somehow find themselves seven points above the relegation zone. They have to be careful now, they cannot think safety is a certainty, it isn’t. With the table finally starting to spread out, Newcastle could get dragged into a relegation scrap.
The problems are not only up front for Newcastle, the middle of midfield is a serious concern. There is a distinct lack of creativity there. Sean Longstaff has struggled for form this season, he doesn’t appear to have overcome the disappointment of picking up an injury towards the end of last season. Jonjo Shelvey has struggled for fitness and consistency, while Nabil Bentaleb arrived in January to try to add a creative spark. However, against Arsenal, Bentaleb found himself far too deep and as a result had little to no influence on the game.
It’s something Newcastle supporters shouldn’t have to hear, though, Newcastle need to just get through this season, survive and have a clear out in the summer. Bruce’s summer transfer wish list must include a striker and a creative midfielder, failing to bring either to the club would be a disastrous summer for Newcastle.
Bruce has a lot of problems to address in the summer, there are players at the club who just aren’t good enough and must be moved on. Make no mistake about it, a big rebuild has to happen in order to take the club forward. The problem with that is, Mike Ashley lacks the interest or ambition to facilitate a rebuild.
There is an awful sense of impending doom at Newcastle, a ticking time bomb in a way. It’s only a matter of time before the explosion happens.